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Anyone who has been to any of my presentations in the past couple of years knows that I’m passionate about teaching search skills. Not only search skills, but how search can and is truly changing our world. Search has the possibility to change our classrooms tomorrow because we can ask interesting questions that we never could ask before.
If you are asking your students the same questions today that you asked before Google, it’s time to updated your questions.
Things have changed….the world has changed and questions and information are the main reason why. I consider Dan Russell from Google the father of search today. This guy understands how our world is changing because we can ask questions we never could before.
In this TEDx Talk Dan talks not only about how search is changing our world but more importantly the reading strategies we need to be teaching today to our students around how to read digital information. Dan, through research of his own, goes on to show that only 51% of educators know the digital information reading strategy of “Find”. That’s just one strategy! There are others he talks about in this video. If nothing else this video has fueled my passion even more on why every teacher needs to know and understand this new digital world of information.
I strongly encourage you to watch and listen to this video…what in it speaks to you about our current state of “reading and search skills” as they are taught in our schools today.
I have been thinking a lot about questions lately and Jim Laney’s recent post brought some of my thinking to the forefront.
Essential Questions are the corner stone, in my opinion, to a good inquiry-based classroom. In thinking about this, I went back to one of my favorite books Understanding by Design (I lived by this book when I was in the classroom).
I love this quote about Essential Questions from the book:
The most vital discipline-bound questions open up thinking and possibilities for everyone — novices and experts alike. They signal that inquiry and open-mindedness are central to expertise, that we must always be learners… [Essential questions] are those that encourage, hint at, even demand transfer beyond the particular topic in which we first encounter them. They should therefore recur over the years to promote conceptual connections and curriculum coherence. (108)
Creating good Essential Questions is difficult but so rewarding when you get the right one. In the age of Google where knowlege is so quickly accessible, I think educators could use Google to see just how good their Essential Question is.
Am I asking a question that Google can answer?
If the answer is yes…then maybe the question doesn’t need to be asked or maybe it needs to be expanded to ask the students to do more than simply answer the question.
The idea that Wiggins and McTighe propose above is one I used while teaching 6th grade social studies in Saudi Arabia. Working with my mentor (every teacher should have one) we sat down and came up with an Overarching Essential Question that would drive the whole year’s curriculum. The question was rather simple:
What makes a civilization great?
The curriculum had us studying, what it considered to be, all the great ancient civilizations, Greeks, Romans, Chinese, etc. As we went through the year, we kept coming back to this essential theme. There were essential questions in each unit that tied back to our overarching essential question. The final test for each unit was simple.
Why do you think this civilzation is considered great?
Sure I could have asked them about dates, leaders, ect. But that’s not what matters, even today after teaching the course, I couldn’t answer those simple memorization questions. Instead, I asked one question repeated time and time again as we studied these civilzations. We had other unit specific essential questions that lasted the length of the unit of study. In most cases that essential question had students applying what they were learning from these great civilizations and transfering that knowledge into understanding their own culture, country and political make up (most of my students were Indian, Pakistani and Filipino).
When it came to the final at that end of the year…the question was simple:
What makes a civilization great? Do you consider your own civilization to be a great one? Why or Why Not?
So using my own question I went to Google to see if it would pass the Google test. The results are interesting , if you change “great” to “successful” as Google suggests I can download an essay ready to go. But looking at the resources avalible for a student, there are a lot of opinion sites but not a lot of factual information on what makes a civilization great. Could what makes a civilization successful be different than what makes it great? I think so….and that’s what I would be looking for in the answer as well as the second part of the question, applying what they have learned to their own culture/civilization and seeing if it fits their own definition of great.
To be fair, I taught this unit in 2002-2003. Google wasn’t known by many, connectivity in the country was slow at best, and not many of my students had a computer at home….how far we have come. Yet, I think in the long run, my questions would have passed the Google Test. They asked students to do more than just learn something. They asked them to apply it, to make sense of it, to have an opinion about it. I remember walking around the room with The Thinking Stick (yes…it is a real baseball bat that I carried around) in hand having great debates in class, having deep conversations about how this applied to our own countries and cultures, and coming to better understand each other as individuals and as cultures co-exisiting in Saudi Arabia.
Google test your essential question and see how it holds up.
To get started, we did a little reverse instruction of our own where I had them read the connectivism article by George Siemens before I arrived. Once I got there, we then set up the classroom for discussion with collaborative note taking and a back channel chat…both were new concepts to most present.
However, as cool as it was to be talking with faculty at a University, I soon found myself apologizing for the K-12 system and its failure in providing students with the skills they need to be ready for college.
As we were having a great discussion about the connectivism article and what it meant for universities and their classrooms, one faculty member spoke up with this:
I just wish they could find information better. They can’t tell the junk from the good stuff.
….and that’s when I started apologizing for our K-12 system. I find it sad that university professors are not using technology in their classes. They are not trying new things like posing interesting questions and having students research those questions and come to class ready to have deep discussions about them because “they can’t tell the junk from the good stuff”. As soon as this statement was made, heads started nodding around the room and with my own recent rantings on this subject as well….I led them into that discussion.
“I’m sorry the K-12 system has failed your students….they should know how to search by the time they get to college. But seeing that they don’t, until your students come prepared, you are going to have to pick up the slack.”
I then spent 30 minutes teaching university faculty how to search….because guess what……they didn’t know how to either. Which is exactly what I’ve come across with K-12 teachers, which helps to explain the unpreparedness of our students. So who is teaching our teachers the skills they need to teach our students?
Full disclosure: I haven’t read the whole paper yet but am reading it as I write this. I think this paper should, if nothing else, raise our concerns on just how bad our education system is right now in teaching kids to search or reSEARCH.
Overall, the vast majority of these teachers say a top priority in today’s classrooms should be teaching students how to “judge the quality of online information.” As a result, a significant portion of the teachers surveyed here report spending class time discussing with students how search engines work, how to assess the reliability of the information they find online, and how to improve their search skills. They also spend time constructing assignments that point students toward the best online resources and encourage the use of sources other than search engines. (Highlights by me) (Student_Research p.2)
OK…so these AP teachers (that’s who the survey was done on) say they “spend class time.” We do not know how much, or when they are teaching the skill of search.
Teachers and students alike report that for today’s students, “research” means “Googling.” As a result, some teachers report that for their students “doing research” has shifted from a relatively slow process of intellectual curiosity and discovery to a fast-paced, short-term exercise aimed at locating just enough information to complete an assignment. (Student_Research p.3)
Really? Because I thought this was a given in society as a whole. Even in the age of libraries and encyclopedias, the research that most students I know did was often an “exercise aimed at locating just enough information to complete the assignment”…it just took us a lot longer to locate that information-it did not make it more meaningful. Let’s remember we’re talking about 14-18 year olds here. Everything is about “just enough information to complete an assignment”. If the assignment is not engaging, has no meaning to me, of course I’m going to do the bare minimum. Isn’t that human nature? Now, if the question matters to me, then research becomes deep and meaningful…but there is a sense of Drive here that is not being talked about.
OK, this table appears on page 6:
I’ll stop reading here as I’m tired and this research is frustrating me. It’s telling me things I already know. In fact, I should like it as between this research and my own experiences, I know this is an issue. I would say it should be one of the #1 issues that every school is looking at, and really it isn’t that hard of an issue to fix. Teach search skills, don’t talk about them, don’t think students already know them-teach them. Search is THE most important skill of our time. When I mean Search, I mean all six of these questions above. That’s search or reSEARCH if you want to get technical about it. I understand….the web as we know it has only been around for 18 years or so and Google only 8 years (well…since their IPO and people really knew who they were). In the history of education, that’s small potatoes, I get it. I get that education and educational curriculum are slow moving entities, but we are doing our students a disservice. We are not preparing them for university and we’re not preparing them for the world that awaits. We are failing on both fronts and really there is no reason we should be.
Google resently announce a free course they are offering in mid-July. I have signed up for it as I still believe search is the most important skill any of us can learn and teach our students. The course is taught by one of Google’s top search engineers and will be held in the format of a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course). If you are looking for something to do in mid-July join me, and I have a feeling thousands of others, in learning some new tips and tricks about searching the web using Google.
Power Searching with Google is a free online, community-based course showcasing search techniques and how to use them to solve real, everyday problems.
Six 50-minute classes.
Interactive activities to practice new skills.
Opportunities to connect with others using Google Groups, Google+, and Hangouts on Air.
Upon passing the post-course assessment, a printable Certificate of Completion will be emailed to you.
As we move to Google Apps for Education at my school I gave a quick 10 minute talk at a staff meeting on 5 Gmail Tips for Teachers. Here they are:
1. Archive is Your Friend
Getting use to archiving everything is a change. Google wants you, begs you, to archive your e-mails so you can search for them later. No need to keep hundreds…even thousands of e-mails in your inbox. Archive and search later.
2. Learn to Search in Gmail
After archive, next you need to learn the search syntax of Gmail. Understanding how to search through your archived mail is a must if you’re going to keep thousands of messages. Good search syntax to know:
in: (i.e. in:sent dennis will find you all the e-mails you have sent to someone named dennis) has: (i.e. has:attachment will find you all the e-mails with an attachment) from: (i.e. from:jeff will find you all the e-mails from jeff) to: (i.e. to:john will find you all the e-mails to john) label: (i.e. label:Google Docs will search for the word ‘docs’ in your google label) subject: (i.e. subject:dinner will find all e-mails where the word ‘dinner’ is in the subject line)
3. Use Priority Inbox
We get so many e-mails during the day that using Gmail’s new Priority Inbox can help search out the conversations that are current and e-mails from people you communicate with most often. The other advice I give teachers is to star the e-mails that need a response by the end of the day….and before you leave school archive everything in the “everything else” area. You can always search it later and you’re not going to go back and read them tomorrow as there will be new e-mails waiting for you.
4. Use Chat
Gchat that can be found in your Gmail sidebar is a great added feature that I’ve been waiting to hit schools for years. A lot of businesses already use some sort of chat client for quick responses and gchat does just that. Use it to communicate with friends at school, with your department, or with students. Have a running dialog throughout the day and get those conversation based e-mails out of your inbox and into a chat format. Gmail also archives all the chats and if you happen to miss when someone chats you it will send you an e-mail with what they said so you never miss the information. Oh….video chat is great too if you are lazy and don’t want to walk to talk to someone else face to face. 🙂
5. Canned Responses
Canned responses are a must for teachers! Turn on this feature in labs and use it to create canned responses to parents or to students. It can also be used to create multiple signatures that you can quickly add to message. So now you can have a e-mail signature for parents, students and co-workers.
Google anncouned Google Instant today…or was that yesterday….today to me, yesterday to you? Anyway, sometime in the past 48 hours Google launched their new search engine.
Some people have been asking does this change mean anything to educators and education?
The answer is: Absolutly!
It changes the way we teach search. When teaching search skills to 2nd graders (You do teach search skills to your 2nd graders right?) I always use the word dolphin for a couple of reasons.
1. It’s a safe search
2. It returns millions of hits
3. You’ll get search results for both the football team and the animal
But now that’s all changed. Above you’ll see what I get now when I search for Dolphins with Google Instant. Student now have instant feedback as they type and can then correct or continue typing and narrow down their search.My search will be narrowed down to exactly what I want before I even actualy hit the search button.
I think it’s a positive change as basically we’ve just done away with a lot of search syntax we use to have to teach kids and can now search….literally…in real time.